Compromise: It’s the only way to save the August Wilson Center

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“My way or the highway” is an attitude that can lead to a dead end.

That seems more likely than ever in the case of competing offers to take over the financially troubled August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation met Wednesday with the New York City developer 980 Liberty Partners over their two plans for the Downtown center’s future. No meeting of the minds emerged.

Although Liberty Partners says it is still willing to discuss a compromise, the foundations have ruled it out. That’s too bad, and it pushes the center closer to a sheriff’s sale, set for Oct. 6.

The region was looking for someone to rescue the 5-year-old center last year when it defaulted on its $7.9 million mortgage. Liberty Partners submitted the highest bid, offering to pay $9.5 million for the building, construct a hotel atop the existing structure and guarantee the center free gallery, office and storage space plus use of its theater for 120 days a year at nominal cost.

The foundations submitted a $4 million offer, then upped it to $7.2 million. They want exclusive rights to run the center, but they’re willing to sell the air rights to Liberty, which would allow for a hotel. They’ve characterized Liberty’s plan as reducing the center to nothing more than a hotel lobby, something the developer denies.

So what happens if the center goes up for sheriff’s sale? The highest offer will win, but it’s impossible to predict if any protections would remain or the center’s mission and programming would be erased from the site built for that purpose. It’s a big risk to take, one that seems unnecessary because there are two potential buyers.

Compromise is the only road that is in the best interest of the August Wilson Center.

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